A proposed review of the Garda Vetting system will help to further protect vulnerable people, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Senator Mary Seery-Kearney, Fine Gael Seanad Spokesperson on Children said: “Without reference to any specific case, recent events have highlighted anyone can set up a charity or charitable outreach, involving contact with people whom many of us would consider as having specific vulnerabilities.
“There is no requirement for those people, who might be very well intentioned, to prove their bona fides, or be verified by any oversight body. The consequence is that vulnerable people may be open to abuse or exploitation.
“In my work I have been aware of individuals who have established themselves as self-appointed drugs rehab counsellors, and then placed those very people who are vulnerable and in recovery out on the street collecting money for their organisation.
“We’ve seen people with anti-vaccination motivations attempt to coerce hospital patients out of Covid care. Similarly, anyone can set up an outreach for a specific purpose and there is no oversight questioning their personal suitability or the best interests of the vulnerable person in their so-called caring methodology.
“As the Dublin Region Homeless Executive have said, we need tighter regulation and oversight in the establishment of charities and in the safeguarding of our most vulnerable.
“I really welcome and value that the Minister is reviewing the Garda Vetting legislation and processes and I believe within that we may have an opportunity to shore up some of the gaps.
“Consideration of the definitions of vulnerable persons could be widened within the current legislation under the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012. The current definition may be construed too narrowly, though it must be read in conjunction with the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act provisions.
“Also, the types of activities provided for under the National Vetting Bureau Act need to be reviewed. The current requirements are that anyone working with a child or vulnerable person must be garda vetted.
“However, if that relationship is within the context of a personal relationship or for no commercial consideration or constitutes giving assistance to a person on an occasional basis, there is no requirement for vetting. The consequence of that could be that any person, regardless of their background or intent could establish a charity to give assistance on an occasional basis to people who could be considered vulnerable and exploit that person.
“Anyone who is well intended will submit to such a process, will provide evidence of their methodologies and the bona fides of their volunteers.
“We need tighter regulation and oversight in the establishment of so-called charities and in the safeguarding of our most vulnerable. I have written to the Minister to include my concerns in the current review and today I have called for a debate in the Seanad on the oversight of voluntary ad hoc outreaches,” Senator Seery-Kearney concluded.